Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Pleiades - Myths from around the World

 The Pleiades are the brightest open cluster in the northern sky and have fascinated people since the beginning of time. They are represented in ancient mythology of many cultures. Most myths relate the Seven (or Six) Sisters to young maidens or boys playing, dancing or just being young and wild, “Like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”

Let's look at what other people called these stars:

China - The Seven Sisters of Industry
Japan - Subaru (look closely at the logo of these cars)
South America - Cajupal, the Six Stars
Australian - Young girls playing music for the dancing young men (in Orion’s belt)
India - The Flame
Native American - Seven young men guarding the holy seed of agriculture/Or seven dancing children
Eskimo - The Bear
Hottentots - wives who kicked their husbands out because they were poor hunters
Borneo - mother and six chicks

The Pleiades are also featured heavily in All Hallow’s Eve celebrations - when they are highest at midnight. Aztecs, Mayan, Peruvians, Japanese, and Hindus all had festivals for the dead near November 1 in honor of the Seven Sisters. 

You can find them very easily.  Look west after sunset and you should see a little cloud hovering above the ground.  When you take a closer look you should be able to make out 5 or 6 of the stars.  A sharp-eyed second grader called it the "Dinky Dipper."  What do you think?  And Venus is nearby - that brightest of planets.  On April 2nd and 3rd Venus will be right next to the Pleiades.  Get out your binoculars and check them out!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Venus and Jupiter Putting on a Show

We have had a great week of viewing for the planetary conjunction.  Venus and Jupiter have switched places and now Venus is the one higher in the sky as darkness falls.  This picture was taken on March 14 by a visitor to the Cincinnati Observatory, Bill Keel.  You can see the old Mitchel Telescope pointed through the dome with Venus on the right, Jupiter on the left (click on it for a bigger version).

For the rest of the month, the two planets will appear to spread out in the sky.  Jupiter will be the first to ride off into the sunset later in April.  But Venus will be blazing away in the western sky until mid-May.

After you've found Venus and Jupiter, turn 180 degrees.  In the opposite sky you'll find a pretty bright star that is decidedly "redder" than the others (hint hint).  That's the planet Mars.  And if you can stay up a little later, Saturn rises with a blue star next to it (called Spica) at about 11:30 in the southeast. So this weekend see if you can catch four planets in one night!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Super Planetary Conjunction

(Click on it to see Jupiter's Moons)
I've been looking forward to this all year!  The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, are coming together for a dramatic planetary conjunction. 

You've probably noticed them in the western sky after sunset.  Venus has been the brighter object lower in the sky.  People often mistake it for a plane or UFO - it's that bright!  Jupiter is dazzling as well, but not as bright as Venus and higher in the sky. 

Each night they appear closer and closer together in the sky, until Monday March 12 and Tuesday March 13 when they will be right next to each other.  After the 13th, Venus will be the higher of the two planets as Jupiter heads off into the sunset. 

Conjunction from the Observatory
They will only appear to be next to each other.  In reality Venus will be about 76 million miles from us while Jupiter will be a whopping 522 million miles distant.  Venus (only 1/11 the diameter of Jupiter) appears brighter because it's that much closer.

There is something mesmerizing about the combination of these two with a gorgeous sunset.  The golden lights of the planets in front of the deep blue March sky is amazing.  Be sure to check them out over the next few weeks and say, "Hi," to the planets!